What the future holds


I love my job. The opportunity to work directly with this wonderful community to preserve, promote and invigorate its historic downtown is a dream come true. In addition to supporting traditional programs, activities and events that both locals and visitors enjoy, I’m also charged with helping us to discover what’s over the horizon.

Yes, to assemble our current bits of information and read the proverbial "tea leaves."

Do I believe we can see into the future and forecast new trends before they’re hip? Learn secrets on how to get ahead of the curve and capitalize on the next big thing? Sneak a glimpse of the newest formula for surefire economic and cultural success?

Well, there’s no crystal ball or deck of tarot cards in my office, so we can forget any Soothsayer ideas. As an artist, however, I’ve worked to manifest ideas, objectives and emotions into new physical form -- thus crafting treasure from inspiration. From my "creative" perspective, therefore, having a notion of what’s to come is good stuff, but imagining, designing and building the future is best practice.

Of course, we must have the skill and desire to form lumps of clay into a sculpture, the blank canvas into a painting, the fabric into a jacket, or the idle guitar into music. As we think about the fate of our downtown, therefore, we ought to first ask ourselves if we harbor the aspirations to significantly modify its form, or redefine its function?

If so, what’s our revelation, motivation, or drive to "make change?" Whether we’re addressing shifts in our climate and weather systems; land use and traffic patterns; energy production and consumption; or the diversification of our population and economy, it seems we have plenty of incentive to further the evolution of Brattleboro.

Like an artist acknowledging the potential energy embodied in a collection of raw material, let’s take a look at our downtown as if we were first-time visitors. What assets stand out? What are its strengths? What needs improvement? How does it function and flow? Does it best serve modern needs? What does it want to be?

Can you imagine it? Are we talking about a subtle shift? A slight tweak or two? A few nuanced alterations? Or do you envision bold new gestures, major modifications, a complete redrafting, maybe? Perhaps your idea falls somewhere between extremes?

Terrific! You can now see the future downtown Brattleboro. What’s next? When do we share these independent ideas with one another? How do we commingle them? Can we find agreement on what our collective vision looks like? And do we have the combined will-power and drive to proactively work together to identify a quality pathway, vehicle and power source to help transit our community from here to there?

Quite a query, isn’t it? When planning next steps, we ought to continually note potential obstacles and opportunities before they arise, while also remembering to stay in the moment. Therefore, once we have a clear image of what we’d like to co-develop, and can determine the route of the journey; we just start molding the clay.

The finished painting starts as an idea, a primed canvas, a model, loose pencil sketch and a few initial brush strokes. The fun is in the doing! Together, by developing a plan that includes a vision for downtown and a set of long and short-term goals, we’ll be able to begin the remarkable process of making the change we’ve envisioned.

OK. When do we start? I have great news. It’s begun. The time to participate in the "visioning," planning and development of this fantastic downtown is now and you have full permission to play an active role in its progression, so jump on board!

As many know, the CEDS/SeVED’S regional economic development strategy was published recently. Its long-term goal is "to reverse the Windham Region’s economic decline that has included stagnant population growth, an aging workforce, a high cost of living and low wages. We envision developing the Southern Vermont economy to generate long-term growth and prosperity, improve the region’s quality of life and sustain its quality of place." This report outlines a whole host of actions to be taken.

My office has just received the newly released Vermont Downtown Action Plan, an in-depth economic and community development strategy for downtown revitalization after suffering the negative affects if Tropical Storm Irene. Crafted by a diverse team of disaster recovery specialists from across the states, this compelling HUD/EPA funded report reveals a great deal about how our central core could be redeveloped.

During a parallel timeframe, while the VDAT study was being finalized, BaBB also began a process of gathering ideas and discussing the "future" of downtown, from a local perspective. In addition to many face-to-face, one-on-one coffee talks, we held a public discussion with 30 or so merchants, hosted an open meeting with almost 30 active citizens, and gathered an economic development roundtable with nearly 30 big-picture thinkers. The results were amazing, providing a ton of grand ideas.

Moreover, the NEA sponsored CoreArts program is still taking its course of action with Phase II (Cultural District) findings on the way and Phase III (Public Art) around the bend. Furthermore, while the Town Plan is revised regularly, there’s a burgeoning effort afoot to begin conducting Downtown Master Planning efforts in the near future.

It’s clear to me that the tea leaves currently read: "get involved now." And quite fittingly, I am writing this column on the Aug. 10 "Supermoon," to which Mystic Mamma says, "The Leo-Aquarius Full Moon is the swing and balance of staying true to yourself, and seeing your own dramatic role in the future-shaping of our times."

So as we co-envision and co-create the future of downtown Brattleboro -- keep it real.

Jacob Alan Roberts is the Downtown Coordinator with Building a Better Brattleboro. His views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization or its board of directors. Feel free to visit the BaBB website: www.brattleboro.com and contact him via email at coordinator@brattleboro.com.


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